Sunday reflections

In progress we trust

Faith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Sorry if I’ve posted this before. It just says so much in so few words.

Seen and unseen understood

We celebrated Theophany, the third-most important of the Church’s feasts, on January 6. The feast technically continues several days, and included last Sunday:

The true Light has appeared and bestows illumination on all. Christ is baptized with us, even though He is above all purity; and thus He infuses sanctification into the water, which then becomes the purifying agent of our souls. What is seen belongs to earth; but what is understood transcends the heavens. By means of a bath comes salvation; by means of water comes the Spirit; by means of immersion does our ascent to God come to pass. How wonderful are Your works, O Lord! Glory to You.

One of the "Praises" ("Lauds") in Matins ("Orthros") January 9 (emphasis added, because that caught my attention).

American Christianity collection

The "democratic" seeds sown

Every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport or license, and sell his false ware at pleasure. What is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen.

Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (1844)

178 years later, we can see a bit more clearly.

To see ourselves as others see us

Author and speaker Christine Caine recently shared that she was stunned by what she encountered when she first visited churches in the United States.

Before coming to the U.S., “I had never seen a flag in a church,” said Caine. “Never.”

Jessica Lea

Unguarded candor

I found my way into this Twitter thread because John MacArthur was quoted as saying:

I don’t even support religious freedom. Religious freedom is what sent people to hell. To say I support religious freedom is to say I support idolatry. It’s to say I support lies. I support hell. I support the kingdom of darkness.

Unfortunately, the quote was accurate, and he doubled down disastrously. MacArthur is a big-name Evangelical of the sort I would have thought fairly moderate.

Comic and tragic

I’m from the Midwest, the home of emotional withdrawal, where I grew up among serious Bible scholars for whom the result of scholarship was schism and bitterness ….

Garrison Keillor.

That Keillor is a low-key comic doesn’t mean it’s not true. Witness this:

New podcast: Reformed Church in America split points to rising tensions in Calvin country — GetReligion

The "Alliance of Reformed Churches" to which conservatives from the RCA are fleeing, is attracting interest from Churches of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) as well. Both a roiled by similar contentious issues, implicating sexuality.

I was already an adult, when the PCA was forming from dissident members of the United Presbyterian Church. Our church was considering affiliating with PCA. They were until recently reputed to be rock-ribbed conservative Calvinists. Now, they’re in some trouble.

Upon completing law school, and before entering the Orthodox Church, I spent roughly 15 years in the CRC.

It blows my mind how the PCA and CRC have changed in so short a time. (If you’re curious, or just not conversant with the polyglot Protestant world, "Presbyterian" and "Reformed" historically are the English and continental Calvinist Churches, respectively; for an American, there’s no high doctrinal barriers between them.)

We’re not total outliers, though

I have been reviewing some of my personal notes, and one portion of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary has particular religious valence. McGilchrist is a Brit, and so his observations aren’t focused on America, but presumably apply throughout the post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment West:

  • One can see the second process (a rejection of the right hemisphere’s world) in the way in which the decline of metaphoric understanding of ceremony and ritual into the inauthentic repetition of empty procedures in the Middle Ages prompted, not a revitalisation of metaphoric understanding, but an outright rejection of it, with the advent of the Reformation … The Reformation is the first great expression of the search for certainty in modern times. As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed … What is so compelling here is that the motive force behind the Reformation was the urge to regain authenticity, with which one can only be profoundly sympathetic. The path it soon took was that of the destruction of all means whereby the authentic could have been recaptured.
  • Decapitation of statues by the Reformers took place because of the confounding of the animate and the inanimate, and the impossibility of seeing that one can live in the other metaphorically. In a world where metaphoric understanding is lost we are reduced to ‘either/or’, as Koerner says. Either the statue is God or it is a thing: since it is ‘obviously’ not God, it must be a thing, and therefore ‘mere wood’, in which case it has no place in worship.
  • Protestantism being a manifestation of left-hemisphere cognition is – even though its conscious self-descriptions would deny this – itself inevitably linked to the will to power, since that is the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • Removing the places of holiness, and effectively dispensing with the dimension of the sacred, eroded the power of the princes of the Church, but it helped to buttress the power of the secular state.
  • In essence the cardinal tenet of Christianity – the Word is made Flesh – becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.
  • There are obvious continuities between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They share the same marks of left-hemisphere domination: the banishment of wonder; the triumph of the explicit, and, with it, mistrust of metaphor; alienation from the embodied world of the flesh, and a consequent cerebralisation of life and experience.
  • The destruction of the sacerdotal power of the Church was a goal of the French Revolution, as it had been of the Reformation. The Reformation, however, had not been nakedly, explicitly, secular: it had purported to replace a corrupt religion with a purified one. All the same its effect had been to transfer power from the sacerdotal base of the Catholic Church to the state, an essential part of the relentless process of secularisation, in the broadest sense – by which I mean the re-presentation of human experience in purely rationalistic terms, necessarily exclusive of the Other, and the insistence that all questions concerning morality and human welfare can and should be settled within those terms – which I would see as the agenda of the left hemisphere. (I am fascinated at the pregnant qualifiers "nakedly, explicitly".)
  • Eichendorff said that Romanticism was the nostalgia of Protestants for the Catholic tradition.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Many and various thoughts 1/15/22

Seeking to destroy the liberal framework

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, on a network news show, responded to a question about January 6 thusly:

“As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds said, noting that none of the irregularities brought to his attention would’ve changed the outcome in any state. “The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”

45 did not appreciate that:

Trump, who in a statement Monday morning accused Rounds of going “woke” on the “fraudulent” 2020 election. “Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive,” Trump continued, lying. “Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.”

The Morning Dispatch

I could not comprehend how any sensible person, whatever his grievances against our traditional political elites, can think that this vengeful narcissist is a suitable Presidential candidate. But Damon Linker has now explained it:

By the time Trump burst on the scene in the summer of 2015, the traditionalist right had nearly given in to outright despair, even in public, with many moving into a purely defensive position. No longer hoping to reverse the direction of the culture, they now hoped they might merely receive modest federal protection from persecution at the hands of emboldened secular liberals.

At first Trump’s campaign didn’t inspire much cause for optimism among disaffected traditionalist conservatives. He was, after all, a personal paragon of moral decadence. Yet once Trump seized the GOP nomination, and then the presidency itself, a rethinking began among the most pessimistic conservatives. Might his unexpected triumph open other, more radical options for the future? Could his aggressive, unapologetic hostility to liberal norms and institutions signal an openness among American voters to a fundamental rethinking of ideological premises, cultural limits, and the range of political possibilities?

For a series of pessimistic conservatives — especially the "integralist" Catholics (Adrian Vermeule, Gladden Pappin, Patrick Deneen, Sohrab Ahmari, Chad Pecknold) and the philosophically anti-liberal and anti-progressive writers at the Claremont Institute and the American Greatness website — Trump came to represent a new way to achieve old ends. Instead of encouraging Republican presidents to struggle within a liberal framework against the inexorable drift of the country, including its government and its culture, toward the secular left, conservatives could cheer on a political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself.

"A political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself." That’s fancy-talk for what I feared was the motivation in 2016 — "To hell with it! Let’s tear it all down!" — which is notably nihilistic rather than conservative.

These traditionalist Christian "conservatives" might justify that as desperate measures for desperate times (responding to an existential threat, another Flight 93 Election, but one mark of conservatism has been sober recognition that bountiful crops don’t grow in the scorched earth of revolution.

What a difference a day makes

My Friday reaction

Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, authorities said Thursday.

Ten other people also were charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, when authorities said members of the extremist group came to Washington intent on stopping the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

AP Report.

That’s close enough to a domestic terrorism charge to satisfy my curiosity (and desire for retribution) about why nobody had been charged with terrorism in the January 6 whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

My Saturday course correction

We have an adversarial legal system because there are often two plausible sides to a case.

Did the Oath Keepers commit seditious conspiracy? I thought so, and so did a law prof. An ex-prosecutor, who has actually convicted seditious conspirators, says not so fast, pal.

I’m with the second now. And the reason why, in a nutshell, is that the President of the United States sent them off to "stop the steal" — ritually disavowing violence but almost assuring it by his inflammatory "fight like hell" and "stop the steal" rhetoric. To those foolish enough to believe Trump, the notion that if we don’t stop the steal, we won’t have America any more is a potent incitement to "any means necessary."

This all matters because unless the prosecutors have filed multiple counts, including counts that don’t require proving that the Oath Keepers consciously were trying to overrule a legitimate election rather than gullibly trying to stop the nonexistent steal, they could well be acquitted. Since they are dangerous fiends or fools who need to be out of circulation for a good long time, both for safety and to deter others, I don’t want that.

Go for the easy single, guys, not the home run.

No particular place to be

I can take a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or of the deepest underwater caverns, nearly as easily as I glance across the room. Every foreign wonder, hidden place, and obscure subculture is immediately available to my idle curiosity; they are lumped together into a uniform distancelessness that revolves around me. But where am I? There doesn’t seem to be any nonarbitrary basis on which I can draw a horizon around myself—a zone of relevance—by which I might take my bearings and get oriented. When the axis of closer-to-me and farther-from-me is collapsed, I can be anywhere, and find that I am rarely in any place in particular.

Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

We’re all experts now

When Covid hit, we were knee-deep in spoofed phone numbers slamming our cellphones about fake car warranties. We were wading through emails trying to steal our identities. We were triangulating Yelp reviews and Consumer Reports summaries with testimonials and marketing research just to buy a new mattress or an air fryer. We were checking out our own purchases at the grocery store and waiting on hold to replace the credit card that got hacked for the umpteenth time. We were staring, bleary-eyed, into apps that promised less “friction” in our everyday lives if we would just consent to tracking — not that we had a clue as to what exactly we were consenting to. The tiny boxes to “sign up” are labeled “terms and conditions,” after all, and not “Here is how we are going to farm your personal data for profit.” And when we complained — to a manager, to a clerk, to our spouses, to the internet — someone was all too glad to tell us how we could have prevented all of this if we had just become an expert in everything.

It is no wonder that so many of us think that we can parse vaccine trial data, compare personal protective equipment, write school policy and call career scientists idiots on Facebook. We are know-it-alls because we are responsible for knowing everything. And God forbid we should not know something and get scammed. If that happens, it is definitely our fault.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, ‌We’re All ‘Experts’ Now. That’s Not a Good Thing.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, skipped vaccine and treated with Ivermectin and Hydrochloroquine when they contracted Covid.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, are convinced that the CDC is sluggish and wimpy and that it’s vitally important that we get vaccinated, boosted, and put on our N95 masks and quarantine until the end of January.

I value my friends, but having fallen for pseudoscience more than once in my long life, I’m trying to trust the CDC directionally, titrating with common sense. I’m 73, and I’m going to die of something some day. Meanwhile, I don’t want to live in irrational fear or with irrational exuberance.

Trafficking in racial animosities

There are strong incentives to provoke the left on race, and that provocation can often take the form of rhetoric that looks a lot like outright racism. Take, for example, this comment from Tucker Carlson regarding immigration and the alleged Democratic effort to “replace” the American electorate with immigrants:

I know that the left and all the gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term replacement, if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World. But, they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.

Carlson says his comments have nothing to do with race—with the so-called Great Replacement theory (a white-supremacist theory that, in its current American incarnation, holds that Democrats—often led by Jews—are trying to replace white voters with nonwhite immigrants). “This is a voting-rights question,” says Carlson. “Every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter,” he claims.

David French, How the Right’s Rules of Rhetoric Create Racial Provocateurs . If you can show me a meaningful difference between "new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World" and "nonwhite immigrants," I’ll buy you a burger at your favorite burger joint.

Tucker Carlson is definitely trafficking in racial animosities.

Hospitalized with Covid or hospitalized because of Covid?

New data published by New York’s Department of Health show that, although the state’s topline COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are near record highs, 43 percent of COVID-positive patients currently hospitalized were admitted for another reason, and only tested positive for COVID-19 incidentally.

The Morning Dispatch, 1/1/22

Human motivations are rarely unmixed

"Admission changes to [Loudon County Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High] were driven by jealously infused xenophobia and racism against the Asian community,” says Mr. Jackson. “Most of the internal deliberations focused on a tailored solution to get just enough black and Hispanic kids in to open the floodgates for rich white affluent families, the primary beneficiaries."

William McGurn, quoting Harry Jackson, former president of the Thomas Jefferson PTA.

Worthy new center-left Substack

I believe it was on this blog that I solicited suggestions for left-leaning honest brokers on the internet, since so much of my reading has become, at least in popular parlance, right-leaning, Several of the writers still identify as liberals or even, in one case, communist — but their honest brokerage gets them branded otherwise. I read them more for the delight and reassurance that I and other conservatives aren’t the only ones who "get it."

Well, the center-right Dispatch recommended a new Substack from Josh Barro, Very Serious, just such a center-left figure, as a likely counterpart to the Dispatch. And the introduction is promising:

The conversation that gets erroneously called a “national conversation” — conducted among select journalists, operatives, activists and academics — is essentially a conversation by and for people who supported Elizabeth Warren. It reflects the values and preferences and linguistic quirks of one minority part of one political party’s coalition. And sure, I am contrarian in relation to that subculture, but not to our overall politics or society, within which I sit closer to the median than most other people you will hear from in the press.

Dissenting from and complaining about this subculture is not novel; it’s become a cliché to jump to Substack and complain about it. But my beef with this subculture isn’t quite the usual one, and that’s why this newsletter is going to be different. I don’t feel oppressed by the subculture. But I do think it has caused certain influential people to become badly misinformed in ways that have been damaging to the interests of both the press and the Democratic Party.

Josh Barro, in his introductory post in his new Very Serious.

(I believe his is a Substack blog — it certainly looks like one in the invitation to paid subscription — but the domain is Barro’s own, which presumably gives him control of the content should he ever leave Substack.)

Riddle solved

[T]here’s a simple solution to the seemingly complicated riddle of Hawley, Cruz and Pompeo. And Marche provides it: Right now their surest path to power, or firmest grip on it, involves the theatrical trashing of their own trappings, the reinvention of themselves as characters in a story other than their own. They haven’t had some post-Ivy moral or philosophical epiphany. Their makeovers are fundamentally commercial: They sized up the current marketplace and manufactured what sells best.

And for them — as for too many people in this age of runaway vanity — brand dictates belief.

Frank Bruni, ‌Trump’s pride goeth before our fall

Bait and switch

This week, the writer Colin Wright posed on Twitter the following question: “What rights do trans people currently not have but want that don’t involve replacing biological sex with one’s subjective ‘gender identity’?” And the response was, of course, crickets. The truth is: the 6-3 Bostock decision places trans people in every state under the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It’s done. It’s built on the sturdy prohibition on sex discrimination. A Trump nominee wrote the ruling.

What the trans movement is now doing, after this comprehensive victory, is not about rights at all. It is about cultural revolution. It’s a much broader movement to dismantle the sex binary, to see biology as a function of power and not science, and thereby to deconstruct the family and even a fixed category such as homosexuality. You can support trans rights and oppose all of this. But they want you to believe you can’t. That’s the bait-and-switch. Don’t take it.

Andrew Sullivan, The Trans Movement Is Not About Rights Anymore

Sully on Biden

The appeal of Biden was that he understood the Senate, represented a moderate middle, and wouldn’t polarize the country with divisive, incendiary rhetoric, as his predecessor had. The reality of Biden is that he has lost the Senate’s trust, has been an enabler of the far left, and is now seeking to call all those who object to a Democratic wishlist of electoral reforms the modern equivalents of the KKK. The speech was disgusting. It will do nothing but further alienate the Senators he needs. It sure alienated me. It could have been written by a Vox intern on Adderall.

I’d wax more eloquently on this but don’t feel I can best either Jonah Goldberg or Peggy Noonan. I voted and supported Biden as the least worst option — in the primaries and general election. I favor an urgent reform of the Electoral Count Act — to avoid a 2020 scenario next time. I’d be open to some of the Democratic proposals. So I should be the kind of voter Biden is appealing to.

But Biden’s polarizing rhetoric, as McConnell made clear, has made compromise on any of this toxic.

Andrew Sullivan again (third topic by my count)

Getting the run-around

Alan Jacobs had a few questions on his University’s health insurance. Nobody would admit that they had answers:

It’s important to recognize that what I went through in both of the circumstances did not result from bugs in the systems, but from features — from purposeful design. The goal of all our contemporary Departments of Circumlocution is simply this: To make us give up. To bring us to the point of shrugging our shoulders and crossing our fingers in the hope that whatever illness we have will somehow get better; or to the point that we pay for medicine ourselves because we can’t figure out how to get the insurance we pay for to cover it, and don’t dare try to get by without it. The object of these systems is the generation of despair. Because if the systems make us despair then the companies that deploy them can boast of the money they have saved the organizations that purchase their services.

Wherein I brand myself

J Budziszewski chose an unusually provocative title: Novelists as Pimps. That I agree with him enthusiasticly no doubt brands me as some sort of comic caricature.

Pretty good book

I’m not going to oversell it, but this was a book I felt well warranted the time to read it:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”

To put it bluntly: we are all expressive individuals now. Just as some choose to identify themselves by their sexual orientation, so the religious person chooses to be a Christian or a Muslim. And this raises the question of why society finds some choices to be legitimate and others to be irrelevant or even unacceptable.

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. If you are comprehensively familiar with Philip Rieff, you can skip it.

Worthy book, but I passed up a favorite annual conference this weekend even though Trueman was one of three keynoters.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Wordplay, 1/14/22

Newly-minted, in descending order of genius:

If you would rank the first four differently, I would not break off fellowship with you.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Book notes: The Master and His Emissary

Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary is, I’m pretty sure, the heftiest book I read in 2021. I’ve been reviewing my Readwise notes on-and-off now for a full day.

Selected notes are more than enough material for a blog the reader can really chew on for a while. While context is missing, I’ve tried to avoid notes that require the context for any understanding:

  • [B]y showing that the left hemisphere, which underwrites the fragmented vision, is both literally more limited in what it can see, and less capable of understanding what it does see, than the right – and, to cap it all, is less aware of its own limitations – the book gives the reader good reason to reappraise the left hemisphere’s world view, wherever it can be identified as such.
  • [S]ince the Industrial Revolution, but particularly in the last fifty years, we have created a world around us which, in contrast to the natural world, reflects the left hemisphere’s priorities and its vision.
  • A mountain that is a landmark to a navigator, a source of wealth to the prospector, a many-textured form to a painter, or to another the dwelling place of the gods, is changed by the attention given to it. There is no ‘real’ mountain which can be distinguished from these, no one way of thinking which reveals the true mountain. Science, however, purports to be uncovering such a reality. Its apparently value-free descriptions are assumed to deliver the truth about the object, onto which our feelings and desires are later painted. Yet this highly objective stance, this ‘view from nowhere’, to use Nagel’s phrase, is itself value-laden. It is just one particular way of looking at things, a way which privileges detachment, a lack of commitment of the viewer to the object viewed.
  • [I]t is the right hemisphere that has the intuitive sense of numbers and their relative size. However, the sense is approximate and does not have precision. The left hemisphere, by contrast, has precision, but it has no intuitive sense of what it is actually doing, other than following rules and manipulating symbols.
  • ‘If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture’s purpose was to disclose them.’ … one feels so hopeless relying on the written word to convey meaning in humanly important and emotionally freighted situations. … It is precisely its accuracy and definiteness that make speech unsuited for expressing what is too complex, changeful and ambiguous. … a right-hemisphere stroke, although not involving speech directly, is in practice more disabling than a left-hemisphere stroke, despite the fact that in a left-hemisphere stroke speech is usually lost.
  • [P]oetry evolved before prose … Prose was at first known as pezos logos, literally ‘pedestrian, or walking, logos’, as opposed to the usual dancing logos of poetry.
  • The belief that one cannot think without language is yet another fallacy of the introspective process, whereby thinking in words about language only serves to confirm the importance of the verbal process. When we consciously introspect, or retrospect, on our own thought processes, and try to construct what happens, how the mind works, we can do so only as we would under those circumstances try to achieve the task, consciously, putting it in words. But the mind is not like this. We carry out most mental processes that would normally constitute what we mean by thinking without doing anything consciously, or in language, at all.
  • [P]hilosophy in the West is essentially a left-hemisphere process. It is verbal and analytic, requiring abstracted, decontextualised, disembodied thinking, dealing in categories, concerning itself with the nature of the general rather than the particular, and adopting a sequential, linear approach to truth, building the edifice of knowledge from the parts, brick by brick. While such a characterisation is not true of most pre-Socratic philosophers, particularly Heraclitus, it is at least true of the majority of philosophers since Plato in the West until the nineteenth century, when, for example, Schopenhauer, Hegel and Nietzsche began to question the basis on which philosophy made its advances.
  • According to the left hemisphere, understanding is built up from the parts … According to the right hemisphere, understanding is derived from the whole ….
  • The statement that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ is itself a truth statement, and implies that it is truer than its opposite, the statement that ‘truth exists’. If we had no concept of truth, we could not state anything at all, and it would even be pointless to act.
  • The fact that in the twentieth century philosophers, like physicists, increasingly arrived at conclusions that are at variance with their own left-hemisphere methodology, and suggest the primacy of the world as the right hemisphere would deliver it, tells us something important.
  • It is only the left hemisphere that thinks there is certainty to be found anywhere.
  • It is not that one or other hemisphere ‘specialises in’, or perhaps even ‘prefers’, whatever it may be, but that each hemisphere has its own disposition towards it, which makes one or another aspect of it come forward – and it is that aspect which is brought out in the world of that hemisphere.
  • The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualised, explicit, disembodied, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known – and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.
  • [T]he immediate pre-conceptual sense of awe can evolve into religion only with the help of the left hemisphere: though, if the process stops there, all one has is theology, or sociology, or empty ritual: something else.
  • With the advent of Romanticism, paradox became once more not a sign of error, but, as it had been seen by Western philosophers before Plato, and by all the major schools of thought in the East before and since, as a sign of the necessary limitation of our customary modes of language and thought, to be welcomed, rather than rejected, on the path towards truth. ‘Paradox is everything simultaneously good and great’, wrote Friedrich Schlegel.
  • The means of argument – the three Ls, language, logic and linearity – are all ultimately under left-hemisphere control, so that the cards are heavily stacked in favour of our conscious discourse enforcing the world view re-presented in the hemisphere which speaks, the left hemisphere, rather than the world that is present to the right hemisphere. Its point of view is always easily defensible, because analytic; the difficulty lies with those who are aware that this does not exhaust the possibilities, and have nonetheless to use analytic methods to transcend analysis. … Coupled with its preference for classification, analysis and sequential thinking, this makes [the left hemisphere] very powerful in constructing an argument. By contrast it is hard for the right hemisphere to be heard at all: what it knows is too complex, hasn’t the advantage of having been carved up into pieces that can be neatly strung together, and it hasn’t got a voice anyway.
  • Although language is the only way we can scientifically bridge the chasm between mind and brain, we should always remember that we humans are creatures that can be deceived as easily by logical rigour as by blind faith … It is possible that some of the fuzzier concepts of folk-psychology may lead us to a more fruitful understanding of the integrative functions of the brain than the rigorous, but constrained, languages of visually observable behavioural acts….
  • One can see the second process (a rejection of the right hemisphere’s world) in the way in which the decline of metaphoric understanding of ceremony and ritual into the inauthentic repetition of empty procedures in the Middle Ages prompted, not a revitalisation of metaphoric understanding, but an outright rejection of it, with the advent of the Reformation … The Reformation is the first great expression of the search for certainty in modern times. As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed … What is so compelling here is that the motive force behind the Reformation was the urge to regain authenticity, with which one can only be profoundly sympathetic. The path it soon took was that of the destruction of all means whereby the authentic could have been recaptured.
  • Decapitation of statues by the Reformers took place because of the confounding of the animate and the inanimate, and the impossibility of seeing that one can live in the other metaphorically. In a world where metaphoric understanding is lost we are reduced to ‘either/or’, as Koerner says. Either the statue is God or it is a thing: since it is ‘obviously’ not God, it must be a thing, and therefore ‘mere wood’, in which case it has no place in worship.
  • Protestantism being a manifestation of left-hemisphere cognition is – even though its conscious self-descriptions would deny this – itself inevitably linked to the will to power, since that is the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • Removing the places of holiness, and effectively dispensing with the dimension of the sacred, eroded the power of the princes of the Church, but it helped to buttress the power of the secular state.
  • In essence the cardinal tenet of Christianity – the Word is made Flesh – becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.
  • There are obvious continuities between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They share the same marks of left-hemisphere domination: the banishment of wonder; the triumph of the explicit, and, with it, mistrust of metaphor; alienation from the embodied world of the flesh, and a consequent cerebralisation of life and experience.
  • The destruction of the sacerdotal power of the Church was a goal of the French Revolution, as it had been of the Reformation. The Reformation, however, had not been nakedly, explicitly, secular: it had purported to replace a corrupt religion with a purified one. All the same its effect had been to transfer power from the sacerdotal base of the Catholic Church to the state, an essential part of the relentless process of secularisation, in the broadest sense – by which I mean the re-presentation of human experience in purely rationalistic terms, necessarily exclusive of the Other, and the insistence that all questions concerning morality and human welfare can and should be settled within those terms – which I would see as the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • The appeal to reason can lead to sweetness and light, but it can also be used to monitor and control, to constrict and repress, in keeping with my view that the aim of the left hemisphere is power. With time, a dark side to the Enlightenment became too obvious to conceal.
  • In Shakespeare, tragedy is no longer the result of a fatal flaw or error: time and again it lies in a clash between two ways of being in the world or looking at the world, neither of which has to be mistaken. In Shakespeare tragedy is in fact the result of the coming together of opposites.
  • Eichendorff said that Romanticism was the nostalgia of Protestants for the Catholic tradition.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday gleanings 1/9/2022

Popular Christianity

How tragic it is that so much of the popular version of Christianity preaches a secularized message. It keeps God isolated, but popping in from time to time. It has lost the sense of the permeation of matter by divine Grace, the sacramental vision of reality; it insists that the Eucharist is just bread and wine, baptism is just a bath, and the world operates independently of God. It preaches a moralism of being “good,” leading only to obsession with guilt, and then, when that becomes too much, to shamelessness. It preaches that our salvation is acquired by a simple confession, and that it consists of going to “heaven” instead of going to “hell”—not a life lived in cooperation with divine grace…

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

Not what it’s for

I believe in evangelism, but it is not a means of cultural engagement at all.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Epiphany and Theophany

The incorrigible habit in western media of mis-identifying Othodox Theophany as Epiphany is an annual irritant.

I do not know how East and West diverged on the observance of January 6, but they are not the same Christian Feast under different names. Such is the "depth" of religion journalism in the U.S. that a common date and the conceptual similarity of the two names throws journalists off every time.

What is common about them is that both celebrate the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. But:

In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus Christ’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles …

Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God ….

Wikipedia thus gets us in the ballpark. But its initial description of Theophany falls pretty far short of the fullness. Fortunately, it gets much closer further into the article.

Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked [the first of – (Tipsy)] two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor). Thus the holy day is considered to be a Trinitarian feast.

(Emphasis added)

Here’s the hymn of the feast:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
and called Thee His beloved Son;
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself//
and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

We sing it five times in the festal liturgy, just in case one’s mind wanders (which probably isn’t the real reason).

I’m a partisan (and a gentile, no less), but I think the first open manifestation of the Holy Trinity is a weightier matter than gentile kings visiting the Christ Child.

And I know it’s not the same thing.

Where is God when you need Him?

In the wake of the tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean in 2007, major newspapers in America (and elsewhere) asked the question, “Where is God?” Tragedy reminds us of God’s apparent absence, but our cries of abandonment seem empty in light of the demands we make for God’s absence at most other times and places.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

The most thoroughly atheist culture in history?

Has Western society become the most thoroughly atheist in history?

[Augusto] Del Noce’s real genius was his prophetic insight into the rise of Western irreligion. He saw that Marxism “won” the war of ideas, even as it collapsed as a theory, by establishing the economic dimension of man as humanity’s defining reality. For Del Noce, the West “defeated” Marxism not by reaffirming biblical morality or Christian anthropology but by quietly shedding both. Western countries won by outproducing Marxist systems on their own terms, with material results—superior science, superior technology, more and better consumer goods. The dark side of technology, Del Noce argued, is a passion for “total revolution”—permanent revolution against the past doing business as innovation. The byproducts of its success have been religious agnosticism, sexual liberation and radical secularism. By the time of his death, Del Noce viewed much of Western society, despite its Christian residue, as the most thoroughly atheist in history, a feat achieved not by persecuting God, but by ignoring and rendering him irrelevant.

Francis X. Maier, ‌How Marxism ‘Won’ the War of Ideas.

(Serving suggestion: Read my first item again.)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Miscellany, 1/8/2022

Fairly Political, but not in a partisan way

Politics of friendship, politics of enemies

[Y]ou can’t operate political systems without friendship, and what has been terrifying in the United States is the replacement of a politics of friends with a politics of enemies. And this then makes any possibility of legislative comity just impossible. That’s why one of my friends has talked about a civil war, because a civil war is a state where a politician across the other aisle regards you as an enemy who is about to destroy everything you value most, and must be resisted by all means, fair or foul. That culture of antagonism is extremely dangerous to the stability of democratic systems. I think we’re living through a very bad period.

I’m a historian, so let’s not set our hair on fire. We can remember periods in American history where, for example, one senator crossed the floor, picked up a stick and nearly beat another senator to death. Now, that was in the run up to the real Civil War. Let’s not forget, we’ve been there before, and we’ve walked it back. And I think we could walk it back again, but I fear that it’s going to take some calamity to wake us all up. And I thought, in fact, that January 6th and the invasion of the sacred precincts of the Congress would have been the calamity that would wake everybody up. But it doesn’t appear to have done so. That’s another sign that democracy in America is in a very, very serious place.

I don’t think there should be enemies in the American house. I don’t think there can be, except one kind of enemy who takes up arms against the system itself. The people who took up arms against Congress on the 6th of January are enemies; they have to be dealt with by the security forces. They have to be put in jail. But apart from that, there are no enemies.

Michael Ignatieff to Yasha Mounk

Whaddya gonna do with your enemies?

I rarely read New York Times Editorial Board opinions, but this one caught my eye (before I noticed its authorship):

[P]eel back a layer, and things are far from normal. Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election.

(Emphasis added, because it’s true and chilling)

January 6 was terrorism

January 6, 2021, was not a riot. It was not a protest, an insurrection, or a (failed) coup—at least, not exclusively so. None of those terms capture the exact nature of premeditated violence done for psychological effect to achieve political ends that characterized the violence at the U.S. Capitol that day. There is a better term, one that does precisely capture that mix: terrorism. January 6 was an attempted terrorist attack on the U.S. Congress. It is important that we call the attack by its rightful name to recognize the threat we face.

Terrorism is, under U.S. law, “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” There is no question the January 6 attack, in which hundreds of people violently broke into the Capitol building to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election, fits that definition.

Most of the protesters on the Mall were peaceful, and even a majority of those at the Capitol did not illegally enter the building. But that is a little like saying 9/11 was mostly peaceful because a majority of New Yorkers were not murdered that day. It somehow misses what was distinctive and noteworthy that morning. Most people act peacefully and lawfully most of the time. But we’re rightly interested in what is unique and unusual behavior—which will be, by definition, a minority of people in a small amount of time—that has outsized influence and does disproportionate damage to public safety and democratic norms.

Paul Miller, ‌Stop Calling It a Riot.

After I wrote this, someone (Matt Labash, I think) said January 6 was a bunch of LARPers who let things get out of hand. That seems too benign, but that "[t]here is no question the January 6 attack …fits that definition" invites the question "then why has nobody been charged with terrorism?" I think there’s an answer, but I’m going to let others develop it if they can.

Freudian slip

Sen. Ted Cruz is very, very, very sorry that he referred to January 6 as a “violent terrorist attack” earlier this week. Please forgive him, 2024 presidential primary voters, he’ll never do it again.

The Morning Dispatch

Never, ever, ever, talk or act as if "cancel culture" exists only on the Left.

Ted Cruz is not a stupid man (see below). That makes him all the more dangerous. But we’re blessed at the transparency of his demagoguery, and his profound personal offensiveness.

Sauce for the Goose

Proving that his political instincts remain just as sharp as ever, Sen. Ted Cruz on his podcast Friday sounded off on the question of whether Republicans will impeach President Biden if the GOP retakes the House. While Cruz’s assessment that House Republicans would be very likely to impeach Biden is quite right, the Texas senator shouldn’t be gassing about it. Cruz is universally known and mostly disliked across the political spectrum, so his comments will provide lots of fodder for Democrats to say that a vote for Republicans this fall is a vote for another impeachment. Cruz justified the idea even if it was not merited, saying “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” “That is not how impeachment is meant to work,” he said. “But I think the Democrats crossed that line." Adding to the miseries of Kevin McCarthy, Cruz even offered some guidance for the House GOP on how to proceed. Democrats will be trying to get Republicans to wade into impeachment issues right up to the election in hopes of forcing candidates to either scare moderates or anger radicals on their own side. This time, the fish jumped right in the boat for them.

‌Chris Stirewalt

Be mindful, folks, that this same Ted Cruz holds forth as the Real Christian®️ candidate.

Fiddling while the pyromaniacs are at work

At a moment when the highest value should be placed on rebuilding consensus around the conduct of elections and restoring confidence in results, both parties remain fixated on revving up their respective bases with boob bait.

Yuval Levin lays it out in his New York Times piece this week: “If we take both parties’ most high-minded arguments at face value, they are worried about problems that barely exist. It is easier than ever to vote: Registration has gotten simpler in recent decades, and most Americans have more time to vote and more ways to do so. Voter turnout is at historic highs, and Black and white voting rates now rise and fall together. These trends long predate the pandemic, and efforts to roll back some state Covid-era accommodations seem unlikely to meaningfully affect turnout. Meanwhile, voter fraud is vanishingly rare. The most thorough database of cases, maintained by one of the staunchest conservative defenders of election integrity, suggests a rate of fraud so low, it could not meaningfully affect outcomes.”

‌Chris Stirewalt again.

Slim pickin’s if you dumb along with dishonest

[A]las, though Cruz, Hawley, and DeSantis have proven plenty dishonest, they’re not that dumb. DeSantis went to Yale, then Harvard Law. Cruz went to Princeton, then Harvard Law. Hawley mixed things up a bit, going to Stanford, then Yale Law. You know, just like all honest-to-God populists do.

That’s why if you’re pulling for the dumb-and-dishonest ticket, you have to endorse someone like Lauren Boebert/Madison Cawthorn, the spiritual future of the party.

Matt Labash, Was January 6 an Inside Job?

Changing with the Times

Sometimes, a column’s title is so evocative that I don’t feel the need to read the column:

The G.O.P. Is Making ‘Critical Race Theory’ the New ‘Shariah Law’

(Charles Blow)

Not Political

Substack

One of my (few) favorite things about 2021 is the emergence of Substack, and that writers at hidebound prestige publications have been able to cast off their employers’ fetters and speak the truth as they see it. Some of them see it quite clearly.

Some, like Rod Dreher, have found in Substack a side gig — a place to write occasionally about concerns beyond quotidian politics. (I’m hoping Rod will break entirely from blogging for American Conservative, since his blogging there keeps setting his hair on fire.)

A few (at least) are finding it markedly more remunerative to write for Substack than, say, for the New York Times or New York magazine (I’m looking at you, Bari and Sully).

And at least one, who sabotaged his employment by a mental health flare-up, is getting almost all his income there.

Such is the left-liberal hegemony of prestige media that most of the fugitives tend to sound right-liberal. If you know of any interesting and honest left-liberal or hard-left Substackers, I’d love to know about them, too.

After I had substantially written this item, Bari Weiss kicked off the New Year asking her readers to tell her a bit about themselves. They obliged, and obliged, and obliged, more than 1500 (and counting) times. The responses are roughly what I would expect. The least common denominator, it seems to me, is a desire to be told, soberly, the truth. Many of us know these truths, but it’s a little disorienting, week after week after month after month, to see nothing but damnable denials in the mainstream media.

Parting shot: Since it is in my conscious working memory at the moment, I perhaps should note that a disproportionate share of my Substack subscriptions are Lesbian (Bari Weiss) or Gay (Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald and David Lat. It will soon leave my working memory, unless writing it down cements it. Since I can think of no plausible explanation for it beyond coincidence, it’s not worth obsessing about.

On cancel culture, deeper than usual

Of course it’s stupid that [Patton] Oswald faced such condemnation for posting a meaningless photo [of himself with Dave Chappelle] in the first place. But come on, dude. Have some self-respect. More importantly, have a little strategic sense here: they’re not going to stop coming after you. They never stop. Apologizing is just blood in the water. You can’t be good enough to satisfy this particular kind of frenzy. What we could do is to advocate for both interpersonal charity and for the kind of moral humility that ancient religions counseled. But then, if you do that you can’t reap the benefits that Oswalt has from carrying the right water for the right people. Those moral forces which you unleash on other people you unleash on yourself, and thus we have Oswalt in a profoundly 21st century dilemma that resonates with lessons from antiquity.

Does anyone involved think that going after Patton Oswalt will materially benefit trans people in any real way? It’s one thing to find Chappelle’s words bigoted and offensive, a perfectly fair position. It’s another thing to think that the people ostensibly fighting against them here are actually motivated in good faith, given that this action can’t possibly help trans rights. Some people just love to rage out on the internet and find juicy targets, and they fall all over the political spectrum.

Social conservatism is essentially dead in American life, as crazy as that sounds; the church ladies and scolds of the right have ceded the ground to bizarre techno-reactionaries, conspiracy theorists, anti-politicians, and crypto-utopians. But there are still a lot of people out there who endorse a bitter and provincial moral vision carved out of folk Christianity and American exceptionalism. The issue is that those people have no presence whatsoever in our culture industries, certainly not in the mainstream media and increasingly little in the conservative media, which is increasingly made up of shmucks trying to get “Intellectual Dark Web” cred who don’t even pretend to care about Jesus.

You can’t be good enough. That’s the point of all of this, if this post is too long and complex for you. You can’t be good enough. They will come to you soon enough. Chappelle was once held up as an idol for the racial radicalism of his show by the people who now reject him. Louis CK was beloved of the woke, until… something happened. Amy Schumer was a hero until she wasn’t. There are others and there will be more. (Your heel turn is coming, Lil Nas X. I can feel it.) Offense is a market, and as long as there’s demand, there will be supply. We’re so desperate for targets of offense that they canceled Norman Mailer yesterday, and he’s been dead for 15 years.

Freddie deBoer, You Can’t Be Good Enough

Face-to-face versus Twitbook

Insightful anecdote from someone I follow on micro.blog:

Many people will write things online that they would never say face to face to someone. We human beings are not wired to see messages on a screen as coming from other full, complex people. I was communications director at a small, nonprofit organization sharply divided by a controversy. Different factions wanted to use the organization’s newsletter to supposedly advocate for their POV, but these "articles" were scorching condemnations of the other side. So I refused to publish them, not wanting to start a slow-motion flame war; which caused its own set of problems and endangered my job. The leadership made some rules: people must meet in person to talk about these things. Several meetings were set up to allow everyone who wanted to, to attend and say their piece. Leadership also announced they would not respond to emails or voice messages on the controversy; you had to come in person and discuss things face to face, with witnesses present. We got through this period only, I believe, because we did not allow the option of online communication. Some people left, but I believe it would have been far worse if the institution had endorsed debates in writing.

To be an American

This quote is not really representative of the long article from which it’s taken, but I think it nails something important:

To be an American is to inherit the gift of living with one foot in the present and one foot in the future, while the rest of humanity has one foot in the present and one foot in the past. Then, every 20 years or so, we trash whatever tenuous equilibriums we have cobbled together and leap off again into the unknown. So it is, and forever will be, until the oleanders bloom outside my door, and California tumbles into the sea—which might be any day now.

David Samuels, ‌The Happiest Place on Earth.

I watched an Amazon documentary on vineyards of Burgundy, and this "one foot in the present and one foot in the past" was vividly portrayed.

A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world.

I’ve written before about the value of moderation in consistency, of the need when cross-pressured by countering winds to tack back and forth. Similarly, there’s the need, when trying to understand one’s world, to alternate between specificity and generality. I do a lot better with specificity, because I have seen the ways that the embrace of a Big Theory tends to shut down people’s minds. But lately I have been feeling the absence, in my thinking, of a more general account of who we are, how we got here, and how we might navigate the prevailing winds of the future.

Or is that feeling merely a temptation? — Is the “general account” rather a snare and a delusion? …

[M]aybe a “general account” is not what is needed so much as equipment for acting wisely and lovingly — in a Christlike way — this day. A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world. What that might look like is something I plan to think about a lot in the coming year. Please stay tuned.

Alan Jacobs, ‌the cross-pressured self

Oopsie! I guess we were evil after all!

Black eye for the Google and class action rackets:

Google Street View provides panoramic street-level pictures from across the world, which it obtained from special camera cars. Google: Whoops, our cars also took substantive info, like passwords, photos, and documents, transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi. Much litigation ensues. A class action covering 60 million people settles for $13 mil, with the money going to attorneys’ fees, various costs, and an assortment of nonprofits that promise to use the money "to promote the protection of Internet privacy"—and not a penny to the people whose privacy was violated. Ninth Circuit: That’s fine. Concurrence: It’s time for us to reconsider our precedent okaying monetary awards to third parties instead of damages for class members.

‌Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Crash diet

John Huey—former editor-in-chief of Time Inc.—has a surprising New Year’s resolution: Consume less news. “Having spent more than 40 years reporting, writing and editing the news, I am surprised to conclude that overconsumption of news, at least in the forms I’ve been gorging on it since 2016, is neither good for my emotional well-being nor essential to the health of the republic,” he writes in the Washington Post, arguing there isn’t enough going on to “fill the 24/7 maw” of cable, talk radio, and social media. “I don’t intend to stop fretting about my country. Nor will I give up reading the newspapers and magazines I deem essential to understanding the world around me. But I am planning a crash news diet. … If the news is big enough, it will find me.”

The Morning Dispatch

Not endorsed

If man is doomed to perish, then universal infertility is as painless a way as any. And there are, after all, personal compensations. For the last sixty years we have sycophantically pandered to the most ignorant, the most criminal and the most selfish section of society. Now, for the rest of our lives, we’re going to be spared the intrusive barbarism of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism.

P.D. James, in her dystopian The Children of Men.

Purdue Men’s Basketball

Having had a stellar (undefeated) non-conference start, Purdue men already have dropped conference games to Rutgers and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin loss, this week, was especially bad, as Purdue’s defensive inadequacies were on full, mortifying display while their offense went uncharacteristically cold.

The Boilermakers bounced back today against Penn State, coached by a first-year coach who assisted at Purdue long enough to know the current players, and Coach Matt Painter’s mind, very, very well.

Penn State gave me a scare by having their big guy attack our big guys on offense, getting both Zach Edey and Trevion Williams in such foul trouble that Purdue played ten minutes with neither of them on the court — doing better than I feared they would.

Penn State has demonstrated come-from-behind potential, and they made a late-game run at Purdue, who held them off 74-67.

It’s going to be a "prove your stuff" season for the Boilermakers, ranked #3 just a few weeks ago, but with any luck it will toughen them, show the players that Coach is right about their weaknesses, and get them peaking by March Madness time.

Love isn’t love (acid test)

The government doesn’t really believe that "love is love," and I’m glad of that: No Security Clearance for Employee Who Had Admitted to Downloading Child Pornography

What we can’t not know

Life is and will ever remain an equation incapable of solution, but it contains certain known factors.

Nikola Tesla


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Holiday Ingathering

You can’t patent, trademark, or copyright routine

Yesterday morning we were reading around the fire and started chatting about pastors and the emphasis in the Protestant church on feelings and niche theology. It is sometimes held that if one feels a certain way or espouses certain esoteric ideas, then one is a “mature” Christian. This, of course, is great for Christian publishers and pastors, who produce books and create experiences that promise to lead people to the holy land of Christian maturity, where a select few live with a sense of satisfying superiority. Gnosticism is alive and well.

But isn’t action essential for holiness—especially repetitive action, like regularly taking the sacraments and doing a daily office? It’s harder (though not impossible) to build a marketable brand on these things, which is perhaps why there are so few celebrity pastors in churches that emphasize routine.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock for December 23 (emphasis added)


Donald Jr.

Emissary to MAGA world

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power …

And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.

Decency is for suckers.

He believes, as his father does, that politics should be practiced ruthlessly, mercilessly, and vengefully. The ends justify the means. Norms and guardrails need to be smashed. Morality and lawfulness must always be subordinated to the pursuit of power and self-interest. That is the Trumpian ethic.

Peter Wehner, ‌The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

And the assembled hoards at Turning Point USA ate it up.

If the GOP wants to be the party of normals

The Republican visage of the Janus-faced Hulk is investing in stupid as if it were Bitcoin … I’m enjoying the political beclowning of wokeness on the left, but the right’s embrace of jackassery is legitimately bumming me out, because it’s driven by people trying to claim the conservative label.

Consider AmericaFest. For several days now, I’ve been subjected to clips from Charlie Kirk’s confab. If stupid were chocolate, he’d be Willy Wonka, albeit with a revival tent vibe.  Whether it’s his comparison of Kyle Rittenhouse to Jesus or his claim that their election “audit updates” come from a “biblical framework,” he’s peddling snake-oil-flavored everlasting gobstoppers of idiocy.

Before you get offended at me mocking people for declaring their Christian faith, consider that what I’m really mocking is their understanding of Christianity. Here’s Donald Trump Jr.:

““We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference,  I understand the mentality, but it’s gotten us nothing, … It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

My favorite part is the “sort of.” “Turn the other cheek” is “sort of” a biblical reference? What other kind of reference could it be other than some obscure instruction from a photographer to some butt model or what a tattooist says when he’s done with the left side?

… Donnie thinks a core tenet of Christianity needs to go if it doesn’t yield political power (for him). It should not fall to a guy named Goldberg to point this out, but from what I know about Christianity, this is pretty frick’n Roman.

But it’s not just the religion stuff. Sarah Palin, without a hint of irony, says she’ll get vaccinated “over my dead body.” (“Your terms are acceptable”—COVID.) … Madison Cawthorn, who makes Watters seems like Aristotle, told a group of mostly college students (at an event that makes its living feeding off of college students) that most of them should drop out of college. And, of course, Tucker Carlson doled out the usual boob-bait about the Capitol riot.

… I could go on. But the point is that if the GOP wants to be the party of normals, it can’t just take advantage of Democratic abnormalcy. It actually has to be, well, normal.

Jonah Goldberg


Dysfunction-making habits

Famous experiments on animals demonstrate that artificial isolation from their own kind produces dysfunction. We need to understand that humanity is running an analogous experiment on itself. The revolution ushered in facts of life that had never before existed on the scale seen today. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the imploding nuclear family, the shrinking extended family: All these phenomena are acts of human subtraction. Every one of them has the effect of reducing the number of people to whom we belong, and whom we can call our own.

Mary Eberstadt, Men Are at War with God


Suffering for the common good

[I]t does strike me as odd that many American liberals seem ideologically committed to being miserable all the time. But this is also understandable in light of prevailing moods. Feeling like you’re a victim even if you’re not is the dominant cultural sensibility of the day.

Anthropologically, the need for an “anchor” or “pivot” (to use the Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s term) is something that all humans appear to need across space and time …

This innate disposition can cause problems when denied its natural outlets. If a particular segment of the population, on average, is less likely to believe in God, belong to an organized religion, have children, or be married, then they will, on average, need to look elsewhere for anchors and pivots. And we know that meaning can be derived from panic, fear, and even illness, particularly if you believe your suffering is in the service of the common good.

Shadi Hamid, Omicron Panic and Liberal Hysteria


Is the essence of conspiracy theorizing denial of Occam’s Razor?

A group of unvaccinated people who attended a huge conspiracy conference in Dallas earlier this month all became sick in the days after the event with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. Instead of blaming the global COVID pandemic, however, the conspiracy theorists think they were attacked with anthrax.

This far-right conspiracy claim began after a dozen people spent time together in a confined space at the ReAwaken America tour event in Dallas over the weekend of Dec. 10. And the fact that this was likely a COVID outbreak and superspreader event has been almost entirely ignored.

David Gilbert, People Got Sick at a Conspiracy Conference. They’re Sure It’s Anthrax..


… rituals of ideological one-upmanship

The forces at work in healthy party politics are centripetal; they encourage factions and interests to come together to work out common goals and strategies. They oblige everyone to think, or at least speak, about the common good. In movement politics, the forces are all centrifugal, encouraging splits into smaller and smaller factions obsessed with single issues and practicing rituals of ideological one-upmanship.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal


Frolicking in 2022

A Facebook name change? A colossal global chip shortage? Digital art selling for millions? No crystal ball could have shown us what 2021 in tech would look like.

Opening paragraph to Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2022 – WSJ

To give them credit, the authors’ very next thought was that their annual prognostications are very much a lark.


Ambivalence

I couldn’t bear much more than the first five minutes of Netflix’s Emily in Paris (which I set out to watch because … Paris, of course), but maybe I had it all wrong:

[M]any of the haters were also fans. A tweet by the comedian Phillip Henry summed up the dynamic: “1) Emily In Paris is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. 2) I finished it in one sitting.”

Netflix’s ‘Emily in Paris’ Is the Last Guilty Pleasure – The Atlantic

I went back and endured 15 minutes. I guess I’m not a very masochistic personality, because that’s enough and more than enough.


Long on emotion, short on facts

I predict mass communication technology and theory will be further weaponized to the point where increasing numbers of people suffer from a Matrix-like existence; “fake news” leading the way, long on emotion, short on facts.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency.

"Long on emotion, short on facts" describes a lot of what I find frustrating about even the more balanced, non-ideological news these days. For just one instance, I think we all now know that hospitalizations has become a better Covid metric than new cases, but you’ll be lucky to find hospitalization numbers in most daily Covid updates. It’s mostly "new cases up; feel bad" or "new cases down; chill a little — until we whipsaw you again."


People who changed their minds in 2021

Because the personal has become political, and because politics has swallowed everything, to change is to risk betrayal: of your people, your culture, your tribe. It is to make yourself suspicious. If you change your mind on something, can you still sit with those friends in the endless high school cafeteria that is modern life? Often, the answer is no.

A year ago, I still believed very much that the best use of my energy was to try to work to shore up the old institutions from the inside. I was wrong. My readers know: This newsletter would not exist if I hadn’t changed my mind.

And once I changed my mind, once I stopped trying to repair a decayed thing from within and set out to build something new, I was suddenly waking up peppy at 5 a.m., no alarm needed. I think that’s because changing your mind is a hopeful act. It means you think there’s a better path forward. It means you’re not done becoming.

Bari Weiss, who proceeds to share some very short essays from people who’ve changed or changed their minds recently.


Shorts

Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero


A sentence that would have been gibberish twenty years ago (and isn’t much better today):

Tesla has agreed to modify software in its cars to prevent drivers and passengers from playing video games on the dashboard screens while vehicle are in motion, a federal safety regulator said on Thursday.


None of the Civil War amendments established a right to be free from private-sector discrimination.

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!


A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

The Price is Right, on the tube for 60+ years now, must be the most cynical show on television.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Annunciation (John Donne)

This time of year, I’ve tended to post selections from W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being. This year, I probably won’t, but I discovered this, which must have been part of Auden’s inspiration, via Malcolm Guite:

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.

John Donne

It would be more appropriate Liturgically on March 25, but too few know that; they heed poems like this only in Advent.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Wednesday, 12/22/21

The most efficacious argument

[W]hen the church itself is unhealthy or poorly led, a plan to start its revitalization with secular political actors and cultural Christianity — with Donald Trump and Eric Zemmour, presumably — seems destined for disappointment.

Social justice activists did not triumph … by first getting an opportunistically woke politician elected president and having her impose their doctrines by fiat. Their cultural advance has had political assistance, but it began with that most ancient power — the power of belief.

Which is also how Christian renewal has usually proceeded in the past. The politically powerful play a part, the half-believing come along, but it was the Dominicans and Franciscans who made the High Middle Ages, the Jesuits who drove the Counter-Reformation, the apostles and martyrs who spread the faith before Roman emperors adopted it.

It’s been that way from the very start. Kings eventually bowed before the crucifix, but in the worlds of the wisest Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, “the most efficacious argument” for Christ’s divinity is that “without the support of the secular power he has changed the whole world.”

And so this Christmas, in our parish and every church around the world, we begin again. Whatever world-changing power we might seek, whatever influence we might hope to wield, starts with the ancient prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Ross Douthat, ‌Can Politics Save Christianity?


Sophistication

For all we know, the tribal shaman who seeks visions of the Dream-time or of the realm of the Six Grandfathers is, in certain crucial respects, immeasurably more sophisticated than the credulous modern Westerner who imagines that technology is wisdom, or that a compendium of physical facts is the equivalent of a key to reality in its every dimension.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God


Lost soul

I heard a few months ago of Steve Skojec, a former hardcore Catholic blogger (1Peter5), having a huge crisis of faith. I began following his new Substack, expecting to find something of interest. I was right.

My own relationship with Catholicism is not so vexed as his.

It’s fair to characterize the Evangelicalism of my youth as anti-Catholic, but not obsessively so; were it not for my memories (1) of two of my adverse reactions to JFK and (2) that I didn’t consider Catholics truly Christian, I’m not sure I’d even recognize that I was anti-Catholic.

I tried to learn about Catholicism as a young adult from tendentious hyper-Calvinist secondary sources (unaware that Vatican II meant Catholicism was going to become much more like Protestantism) and (surprise!) what I "learned" wasn’t good.

When I first became Orthodox, I realized that most of the objections I’d had to Catholicism were wrong, and I flirted with the idea that devout Catholics and Orthodox were all, in Richard John Neuhaus’s reification, "ecclesial Christians": people for whom faith in Christ and faith in His Church was one act of faith, not two. I recognized that much of my former attitude could be described as Romophobia, the Protestant reflex that shuns anything, however wholesome, that feels "too Catholic."

But the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I realize that the millennium-wide gulf between Orthodoxy and Catholicism really is deep and wide, in ways that cannot readily be described and that go well beyond which doctrinal propositions each affirms or denies. Notably, I see in Steve Skojec’s substack how he is still haunted by distinctly Catholic beliefs that he now deeply, and justifiably, doubts.

Rod Dreher once was in a similar place, but then encountered Orthodoxy. I pray for Steve Skojec daily, but as I’m not a paid subscriber, I can offer him no words of encouragement or invitation to Orthodoxy. Fortunately, others seem to be doing it.


Christmas, sort of

On a lighter — indeed almost weightless — note, my wife and I have watched a few "Christmas movies" on Netflix this week. And I’ve listened to the background music at my favorite restaurant, a mix of deracinated romantic "Christmas songs" in the "All I Want for Christmas is You" genre.

I’m reminded of why we need the word "vapid" in our English language.

I’ve gotten out Auden’s For the Time Being again.

Maybe I’ll watch Charlie Brown, too:

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not like other Christmas movies. For over half a century, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been playing a game of chicken and we tune in every year to watch it win again. When will CBS finally cave and remove Linus’s recitation of Luke 2? When will the story of Christ’s birth finally be replaced with some spineless pablum about equality, teamwork, and oblique references to fashionable politics? “Surely this will be the year they cut it,” we say, folding our arms as the spotlight falls on Linus. And yet this twenty-five-minute movie somehow manages to pull off the same simple stunt every year—and every year, it is a little more impressive than the last time.

Joshua Gibbs, The Enduring Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas | Circe Institute.

I kind of wonder if the Estate of Charles Schultz won’t forbid bowdlerizing with "spineless pablum." He was said to be an observant Protestant Christian. CBS may have to choose between the Gospel according to St. Luke and contemporary vapidity.


Trans ideal, trans reality

Trans activists argue that a long-marginalised group is now finding its voice in popular culture. Their critics retort that vulnerable teenagers are losing themselves in an online world which adulates anyone who comes out as trans. Both could be right.

“What is needed is quality research into adolescent-onset dysphoria among girls, and the overlap with autism and mental-health diagnoses,” says Will Malone, an endocrinologist and director at the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, an international group of doctors and researchers.

Ideally, … an adolescent with gender dysphoria would have been regularly seeing a therapist, who encouraged them to explore other possible causes for their feelings and had a comprehensive psychological assessment before being put on blockers or hormones. “It is very rare that even one of these things happens,” she says.

The Economist, After the Keira Bell Verdict – An English Ruling on Transgender Teens Could Have Global Repercussions (URL lost)


Covid reality

The abstraction of “social responsibility” does not tell me anything about what it is that you want me to do … If you’re locking down but surviving doing so with meal delivery apps, online shopping, and delivery groceries, you’re not reducing risk, you’re just imposing it on other people … It’s very hard to exist in modern society and to reduce your own risk of infection without increasing that of someone else … Reference to the grand shibboleth of social responsibility or communal welfare or similar, it’s all a way to hide in the abstract, and we hide there because there’s so little to do in the particular. Covid is here. The vast majority of us will survive it, as has been the case since the beginning. Many hundreds of thousands, tragically, will die ….

Freddie deBoer, Social Responsibility… To Do What?

And this, not from Freddie:

COVID is just a part of our lives now, and if we don’t learn to live with it, we’re never going to be able to do anything.

Sportswriter Will Leitch via the Morning Dispatch


Baptists gonna be baptists

Burk states that he does not believe that the response from Du Mez represents:

… any kind of middle or undecided position. She is already willing to have communion with and to recognize LGBTQ persons as her brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, she is already saying that it is right to welcome to the Lord’s table those who embrace and affirm a homosexual identity. She may be under the impression that this is a “middle” or “undecided” position, but it certainly is not. Once you’ve affirmed unrepentant homosexuals as your brothers and sisters in Christ, you have already endorsed an affirming position no matter what your ethical calculation might otherwise be.

It appears that she is treating homosexuality as if it were an issue that otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree about — something on the order of differences over baptism or the rapture. That view is a grave error.

Note Burk’s use of the word “identity,” instead of “behavior.”

Terry Mattingly, ‌Think pieces: Why are evangelicals evolving on doctrines linked to LGBTQ issues?

I’m not going to do any deep dive to figure out exactly how Du Mez and Burk disagree, and what Du Mez may have said or written elsewhere that incites such lack of charity in Burk’s response, above — i.e., leaping from "willing to recognize LGBTQ persons as her brothers and sisters in Christ" to "welcome … those who embrace and affirm a homosexual identity" to "affirm[ing] unrepentant homosexuals." Those kinds of leaps seem more like mendacious Right Cancel Culture than good faith argumentation.

Is Denny Burk confused about the distinction between identity and behavior? (I doubt it.) Does Burk think that identifying as homosexual, even if celibate, is sinful? (I suspect he does.) If so, does he think that homosexual orientation (without "identifying as gay" or celebrating it) can be changed? I’ve had some thoughts on that.


Lovely poetic acquisition

Shared on micro.blog:

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
    who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company, always, with those who say
    "Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
    and bow their heads.

(Attributed to Mary Oliver)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky and pleasant). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Monday meanderings

(No, I didn’t collect all these today, but my queue was getting pretty full.)

Sex, sport, and hard truths

Scientists are generally "uncomfortable with black-and-white statements, because science is all about nuance." But in the case of sex and sport, "there are some hard truths that deserve to be trumpeted." There is a significant performance difference between males and females from puberty onward. Testosterone is the primary driver of that difference. There is a wide gap, no overlap, between the male and female T ranges. Sex may not be binary for all people or for all purposes. But for sport, what most of us mean when we say "sex" is actually what matters, and that sex is undeniably binary: you either have testes and functional androgen receptors, or you don’t. "Full stop."

On average, even in the elite athlete population, males have 30 times more T than females. This includes both transgender women and girls starting from the onset of puberty, and 46-XY males with the two differences of sex development (DSDs) that are most relevant for sport: 5ARD (alpha-reductase deficiency) and PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity). The Gold, Silver, and Bronze medalists in the women’s 800 meters in Rio—Caster Semenya, Francine Nyonsaba, and Margaret Wambui—are all suspected of having the former condition. They are not "hyperandrogenic females." The latter are represented on the figure as 46-XX females with PCOS (polycystic ovaries) and CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia).

… Pick your body part, your geography, and your socioeconomic status and do your comparative homework. Starting in puberty there will always be boys who can beat the best girls and men who can beat the best women.

Doriane Coleman, ‌On the Biology of Sex, Sex Differentiation, and the Performance Gap.

This is the first substantive article in a very recent guest series at Volokh Conspiracy.


Brace yourself for more rainbow flags and diversity trainings

A tornado outbreak tore through the midwest on December 10, killing more than 80 people. Many are still missing. Some factory and warehouse workers in the region say their bosses threatened to fire them if they left their posts to go home. In the last decade, corporations have been able to placate the American left with rainbow flags and diversity trainings. It would be interesting if this tornado—and the reports from inside a candle factory and Amazon warehouse—reignites something of the old, real labor movement. We hope so. The candle factory workers have filed suit.

Nellie Bowles‌.

Amazon’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is also good.


Hygiene theater

So why are our authorities catering to neurosis and fear rather than explaining the truth: that the virus is never going away, and the way to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated and boosted. Why isn’t that the only message?

I am a naturally pro-social person. I wear a mask when required. I get tested when required. I try to accommodate and respect people’s differing risk preferences. But I’m very privileged when it comes to COVID; doing these things is easy for me. I don’t have little kids in school. I work from home. None of the extant restrictions materially impact my life.

Yet even I feel myself being radicalized, starting to think: maybe it’s not enough to make reasoned arguments against rules that are little more than hygiene theater. Maybe it’s time to break them.

And if I’m feeling that way, how on earth must normal people feel?

Noah Millman, ‌The radicalization of a COVID moderate

I’ve read one fairly powerful series on why vaccine hesitancy might be warranted even if the vaccines are safe. I won’t try to summarize except to say that the storyline goes "so if most of us get vaccinated, what happens then, and then even later — and cui bono?" It’s here, here and here, though there’s a likely paywall.

Again, I’m vaccinated and boosted, preferring the possibly false assurances of my government to the dark hints of resisters. I’ve not been persuaded that I made a bad call, even if eventualities may eventuate. They always do, and it’s shocking how much I instinctively avoid reckoning with that most of the time.


Too old

We need also to be frank about Biden. He’s too old to be president, and most people sense this. He was elected because he was someone clearly not as toxic to the electorate as most of the other more radical Dems. But in office, this has been shown to be a chimera. There is nothing to distinguish him in policy from the far left.

His administration has embraced race and sex discrimination in every part of the federal government; he has endorsed the subordination of biological sex to gender identity in the law; his goal in immigration policy is to enable mass migration, not stop it. His administration routinely deploys the hideous acronyms of woke language — “equity,” “Latinx,” “BIPOC,” “LGBTQIA+” — and any return to plain English and common sense violates their commitment to “social justice.” Just watch Biden repeat the nonsense word “LatinX” in public. It’s pitiable.

Just yesterday it was reported that his administration will offer bonuses to Medicare doctors who “create and implement an anti-racism plan.” An “anti-racism plan” means doctors must now view “systemic racism” as a health issue, and deny any biological differences in health between human genetic sub-populations. This is ideology, not science. Biden views people as groups first, individuals second. That’s why he decided on the racial and gender identity of his vice-president and his top Supreme Court nominee before he even considered the individual pick.

Andrew Sullivan.


Red-pilled

Harvard College Suspends Standardized Testing Requirement for Next Four Years | News | The Harvard Crimson

Freddie deBoer summarizes what this boils down to in the real world: "[G]etting rid of the SATs is just another way for them to consolidate total and unfettered privilege to choose whoever is going to make their pockets even heavier, and that they are and will always be in the business of nominating an aristocracy that will deepen inequality and intensify exploitation …."

More:

You can’t make college admissions fair by getting rid of the SAT because colleges admissions can’t be “fair.” College admissions exist to serve the schools. Period. End of story. They always have, they always will. College admissions departments functioned as one big anti-Semitic conspiracy for decades because that was in the best interest of the institution. Guys who the schools know will never graduate but who run a 4.5 40 jump the line because admissions serves the institution. Absolute … dullards whose parents can pay – and listen, guys, it’s cute that you think legacies are somehow the extent of that dynamic, like they won’t let in the idiot son of a wealthy guy who didn’t go there – get in because admissions serves the institution. Some cornfed doofus from Wyoming with a so-so application gets in over a far more qualified kid from Connecticut because the marketing department gets to say they have students from 44 states in the incoming class instead of 43 that way, because admissions serves the institution. How do you people look at this world and conclude that the problem is the SAT?

And what just drives me crazy, what I find so bizarre, is that all these PMC liberals in media and academia think they’re so endlessly disillusioned and over it and jaded, but they imagine that it was the SAT standing in the way of these schools admitting a bunch of poor Black kids. What … do you think has been happening, exactly? They’re standing around, looking at all these brilliant kids from Harlem and saying “oh God, if only we could let in these kids. We need to save them from the streets! But we can’t get past that dastardly SAT.” They decide who to let in, and they always have! They can let in whoever they want! Why on earth would you put the onus on the test instead of the schools? You think, what, they would prefer to admit kids whose parents can’t possibly donate? The whole selection process for elite schools is to skim a band of truly gifted students from the top, then admit a bunch of kids with identical resumes whose parents will collectively buy the crew team a new boathouse, and then you find a kid whose parents moved to the states from Nigeria two years before he was born and whose family owns a mining company and you call that affirmative action. And if you look at all this, and you take to Twitter to complain about the SAT instead of identifying the root corruption at the schools themselves, you’re a … mark, a patsy. You’ve been worked, you’ve been took. You’re doing the bidding of some of the wealthiest, most elitist, most despicable institutions on earth. You think Harvard [cares] about poor Black teenagers? Are you out of your … minds?

It was in their best interest to use the SAT before, so they used it. Now it’s in their best interest to have even more leeway to select the bumbling doofus children of the affluent, and you’re applauding them for it in the name of “equity.” Brilliant.

It’s all corrupt. All of it. From the top to the bottom. It is so insane that all of these people who are ostensibly so cynical about institutions, who will tell you that capitalism is inherently a rigged game, who think meritocracy is a joke, who say that they think these hierarchies are all just privilege, will then turn around and say “ah yes, the SAT is gone, now fairness and egalitarianism will reign.”

(Expletives deleted (that’s what most of the ellipses are) — and they were numerous).


My missing moral foundation

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at today’s political tribalism, having experienced something similar.

I was a conservative "culture warrior" for decades. My reasons for ceasing aren’t entirely clear even to me, because most of my convictions remain much the same today. Part of it probably has to do with getting over the conceit that people with opposite convictions are necessarily moral monsters who must be publicly anathematized and sent into exile.

But I was never advise of the tacit requirement that I support just about any tomfoolery that any fellow-warrior might come up with. I apparently was, as I learned when a conservative fellow-warrier decided to call for a newspaper boycott over it running Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse comic strip even after (gasp!) it introduce a gay middle-school boy character.

For my money, that strip, gay character or not, was one of the loveliest on the whole comic page — and I said so, loudly, probably in a letter to the editor (remember those? Good times!).

At the time, I was the newspaper’s lawyer, but that didn’t influence me (it just wasn’t all that lucrative). Nevertheless, my fellow-warrior’s mother called me and lambasted me about "30 pieces of silver" and yadda, yadda, yadda. I was reminded of this little chapter when I recently saw the mother’s obituary. She had apologized in the meantime.

I don’t recall other specific incidents when I broke from some tribe I’d never consciously joined, but I have the impression that the For Better or Worse chapter was not the only one, even if it was particularly vivid.

Another time, I returned from vacation to find my firm fairly far into litigation against a quirky acquaintance with whom I’d shared some lunches over a mutual interest. When I heard the allegations, I thought "I hate to say it, but that sounds like something he’d do," so I joined the team working on it.

I later took Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Questionnaire, discovering that my score on "Loyalty/betrayal" was shockingly low for a conservative. All I can say in defense is that I try to be faithful to principle. And I still suffer qualms about that second incident.

Maybe this was why my Evangelical/Fundamentalist schools forbade membership in "oath-bound secret societies" like fraternities, lodges and such: don’t take an oath that might require you to betray principle for the sake of the tribe. If so, it’s not entirely bogus.


Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died ten years ago, and there’s been a little burst of "Boy! We could sure use Hitch now!" articles. The most recent thought we could use him because he was fearless and the rest of us (including the author) are scared to death of getting cancelled.

I enjoyed much that Hitch wrote, the best of which has aged well. But I think that God, in his great mercy, gave us all the Hitch we really needed, and I wish for no more.


Pro-tip

Ignorance has been an excellent strategy for me. I could listen to Fox and it’d make me furious, but I don’t and I save a lot of time that I’d spend chewing the carpet.

Garrison Keillor


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.